Thursday, 31 May 2007


It's quite a journey, but I had been promising myself a visit to Darlington ever since I discovered the local authority's innovative approach to raising revenue.

I never did find the offending miniature parking bays. Instead, my attention was diverted by a sign for Darlington Arts Centre.

I first visited the imposing building which houses the Arts Centre shortly after it was opened, some 30 years ago, when delivering a lecture to a class of trainee journalists at the nearby technical college. When, all those years ago, I chanced upon the converted building which had begun its life as Darlington College of Education, founded by the British & Foreign School Society, it was a delight.

Of course, this was the late, (but pre-Thatcher) 1970's, and attitudes to art were a little different to those prevailing these days. The arts 'industry' was in its infancy. But I remember a vibrant mix of exhibitions, a buzzing bar and the sound of avant garde music playing everywhere you went.

Little wonder, then, that I fancied recapturing a touch of those days gone by when I saw the sign for the centre. My regular readers will know that I am not much given to nostalgic yearnings. Nevertheless, the road already travelled sometimes appeals much more than the uncertain one ahead, so I decided, on a whim, to revisit the Centre.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I discovered. Darlington Arts Centre's best stab at providing art to the masses seems now to be a corridor outside the gents, where someone (possibly accidentally) had left a few works by local artists hanging - no more than twenty pieces in all.

I'm not a man to give up easily when I've got the scent of culture in my nostrils, even if it's mixed just a little with the smell of bleach. Pausing only to take a (quite decidedly horrible) coffee in the misnamed 'Garden Bar' (now a shabby room, on the first floor, whose only access to the anything like a garden was the glimpse of a boring patch of grass through a dirty window) I made my way back to reception, determined to be directed to whatever works of art the Centre was hiding - however minimalist they were.

Unfortunately, the reception staff - though perfectly friendly - struggled in the task. Had I seen the display in the corridor near the toilets, they asked, hopefully.

'Come back on Monday,' they pleaded: 'We're having a Grand Re-opening then'. A bit of me was tempted, although I wondered for a moment if I had stumbled into some kind of artistic recreation of Monty Python's famous Cheese Shop sketch. Would there be any art available to see, I wondered, hesitantly voicing my query even as I (shamefully) began anticipating their reply. They gamefully studied the programme, but it was no use. They had to admit that nothing was scheduled.

My top tip for anyone who has received an invitation to this 'Grand Re-opening' - which seems to centre around a new reception area, as the rest of the building was looking tired and shabby, is this: save yourself the anguish. Stay at home and flick through that coffee table Taschen book your cousin bought you for Christmas a couple of years back.

And, if the Community Arts Co-ordinator at Darlington Arts Centre is reading this, I only hope you enjoyed your lunch. Had it ended earlier than 2pm, when I was there, you might have had a piece of my barbed tongue to contend with.

(Incidentally, readers should not confuse the establishment with this place which, though tagged with the same moniker, seems at least to be living up to what an arts centre should aspire to), even if it is a few thousand miles away from the North East Centre for the Misnomers.

Fortunately, just around the corner, I discovered the quite lovely Gallerina art gallery. It's website may be 'under development', but I can assure you that the gallery itself is well and truly finished - and there you'll find an eclectic mix of intelligent painting and sculpture while discovering some local talent that hasn't been relegated to a corridor outside a gentleman's lavatory.

They had a few items by an artist who perfectly captured the camaraderie of the old mining communities in south west Durham - Alistair Brookes. Huge, white canvasses, with shadowy black figures of miners on their way to work: the dignity of labour acutely caught in vinyl. And not a whiff of bleach to be had anywhere.


Daddy Papersurfer said...

It is a relief to me that there are still culture vultures out there picking over the bones.You've really made me think............Ooooo...damn

nursemyra said...

I wish I had a cousin who bought me Taschen books for christmas :-(

Bill Blunt said...

The meat is sparse these days, dp.

As for you nursemyra, pay the freight and the Roy Stuart collection's yours...

Anonymous said...

As an artist of note, I am very pleased that you have discovered this quiet backwater of cultural bliss, Bill.
I shall make a note to send them slides and a CV asap. Iof they accept my work as suitable for display, I will, of course, invite you to the vimto and cheese crisp opening.

PS - I think my e-mails are going into your spam box again. Maybe I'll send a postcard to Bury. perhaps we all should!

the domestic minx said...

I love the smell of bleach in the morning...

But in an art gallery?
Certainly not, unless it's bleach used, artistically...

I'm a great supporter, and purchaser, of young artists.
I've got quite a nice collection of young and rather well hung beatniks in my gallery now...

I might add, at this point, somewhat unnecessarily, that a good number of my ancestors licked road clean wit tongue...

Bill Blunt said...

anonymous, I think it is time you unmasked yourself as the artist you are. We await the arrival of your blog with interest and trepidation.
Until then, I shall check the corridor outside the gents for your etchings...

dm - aybahgum, who'd a thought it?

Crofty said...

By 'eck I'm feeling more at 'ome every visit.

Andrew Goulding Articles said...

Big question Mr. B. (and with respect to Anonymous)

Aesthetics aside, there's no doubt in my mind that (Painting) as Art is Dead because the meaning of Art has changed:

The zeitgeist is no longer best captured on's changing from decade to decade:

What was a song in the 1960s
A media manipulator in the 1970s
A music video in the 1980s
A special effects movie in the 90s
A web 2.0 breakthrough that sells for billions in the 00s

...defines "Art", the capturing of the moment. The quintessential "something" that marks an era.

Paintings? What are they?


Thomas Hamburger Jnr said...

I thought for a minute the answer to all those questions was going to be the same, Mr Articles!

You raise a fine debating point which I will have to persuad Bill to make the subject of a future posting.